As a consequence of a severe Atlantic storm in the west we woke to a hissing wind and dark scowling clouds that the mountains of Portugal had failed to detain racing in from the west like battleships. It was mean and moody but there was no rain so that was a bonus.
From the hotel balcony it was possible to appreciate just what a land of contrasts Spain really is. This was about as far away from the traditional view of Spain of the holiday brochures as it is possible to get and it was different too from our visit the previous month to Castilla-la Mancha. Here we were getting close towards green Spain in the north with more small farms, livestock, deciduous woods, fast flowing rivers and Portugal just twenty-five kilometres away – which was where we planned to visit later.
Breakfast was a simple affair and as we were the only people in the dining room it soon became clear that we were the only two guests in the hotel. Afterwards we dressed appropriately and took the walk alongside the river and into Ciudad Rodrigo. The sky was blue but filling all the time with dark purple clouds with only occasional shafts of sunlight darting through. There was a spiteful wind that stung our ears and although it was a nice walk it was along a very muddy path and we were glad that we hadn’t attempted it last night in the dark.
The path took us along the Rio Águeda, which is a two hundred and fifty kilometre long river which begins to the south in the Sierra de la Mesas, near the Portuguese border and flows through Ciudad Rodrigo and after serving as the border with Portugal for its final few kilometres joins the Douro at Barca d’Alva to the north.
As we climbed the outside of the city walls the wind strengthened and thankfully scattered the black clouds somewhere towards Salamanca to the east and they were replaced with friendlier white cotton wool ball clouds that raced in to take their place. We entered the city through the western gate cut into the fortifications, still bearing the pock-marked scars of musket balls and found ourselves in a charming place overflowing with history and character.
It reminded me of the Richard Sharpe stories of the Peninsular War. In January 1812 Ciudad Rodrigo was besieged by the British Army under Wellington and held out for two weeks before the French forces surrendered. Ciudad Rodrigo was strategically important because it guarded the northern route into Spain for an invading army but it was only a second class fortress with a ten metre high main wall built of inferior masonry, without flanks, and with weak parapets and narrow ramparts.
After the fall of the city the Allied troops disgraced themselves by the wanton sacking of Ciudad Rodrigo when many homes were broken into, property vandalised or stolen, Spanish civilians of all ages and backgrounds killed, and many officers were shot by the men they were trying to bring to order.
Loot was an established part of army pay and the tradition was to share out the spoils, with officers and other ranks taking their cut, and some of the cash used to compensate the families of dead or wounded soldiers. Some times matters got completely out of hand, such a time was Ciudad Rodrigo.
It was quiet enough today however and once inside the walls we walked to the castle, which predictably is now a Parador hotel, had a look inside and then walked around a part of the walls. A few spots of rain forced us down into the city, past the curiously misshapen cathedral, the result of an earthquake which literally knocked it sideways, and into a tourist information office with the heating set to an unnecessary maximum and then on to the Plaza Mayor in the centre with its warm sandstone coloured buildings, ornate metal balconies and traditional Spanish shops and bars around all four sides.
The weather was changing by the minute and after the little shower the sky was blue with clouds that had no time to stop and spoil it because they were driven away swiftly by the wind. It was nice enough to sit outside at a pavement café and have a drink while we planned what to do with the rest of the day. We hadn’t seen all of Ciudad Rodrigo but we decided to leave some for another day and feeling optimistic about the weather prospects decided to go to Portugal for lunch so we returned to the hotel to pick up the car.